Ethics Code of The Record, Hackensack, NJ, published 29 January 1999.
The Record acknowledges that there is no way to anticipate all situations that might raise ethical questions for staff members. At the same time, The Record believes its staff members should perform their jobs within the prescribed ethical guidelines outlined in this code. The newspaper also believes that to a large degree staffers must be the judges of their own standards. They must avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest that might lead to embarrassment for themselves or for the newspaper. And they must avoid situations in which they or the newspaper would be beholden – or appear to be beholden – to any person, organization, or agenda.
This ethics code applies only to Record staffers. We cannot impose on loved ones the same bans we do on members of the staff.
However, a loved one’s employment or activities at times may create a potential or real conflict of interest for the staffer. In those cases, it would be best for the staffer to inform his or her superior of the situation. The staffer should also take steps to avoid such a conflict.
For example, if a staffer’s wife is the mayor of Shadyvale Township, the staffer should not be making decisions about the paper’s coverage of Shadyvale politics. If stocks are held in the names of a staffer’s children, the staffer may still may have a conflict of interest if asked to cover that company.
We offer no definition of “loved one,” because that will differ from employee to employee. Some people are very close to their cousins, or their neighbors.
Obviously, questions will arise under this code. If a staff member is in doubt about an ethical question, he or she should take the question to the immediate supervisor. Similarly, a staffer should go to the immediate supervisor if he or she seeks an exemption from the ethics code regarding a specific situation.
If a staffer disagrees with a supervisor’s ruling on an ethical question, the staffer can appeal to the editor or to a person or committee that the editor may designate to hear ethics questions. No staffer will be penalized for making such an appeal.
Neither will any staffer be penalized for adhering to the ethics code. For example, a reporter who discloses his or her outside income or investments in advance of being considered for a job in the business department will not be penalized for holding those investments or for having that income.
While there is no desire on the part of the newspaper to interfere in an employee’s finances, the following guidelines are designed to ensure that the newspaper’s integrity is not compromised by a staffer’s investments.
A staffer should avoid making news decisions about a company in which he or she has investments.
A staff member may not use unpublished information gathered by The Record to make investment decisions.
If a staff member is assigned to or finds him or herself covering a story about a company in which he or she has investments, the staffer should immediately tell his or her department head.
If a staff member’s job is to write about investments and investment opportunities, that staffer should take extreme care to avoid actions that might suggest he or she was using the position for personal financial gain.
Politics and government pose special conflict of interest problems for us as journalists. Because of this, staff members should neither seek nor hold elective public office at any level of government. Staff members should also not accept any appointment to public office. This rule applies equally to staffers who live within our circulation area and outside that area, and applies to all staffers regardless of their beats and responsibilities.
Staffers should not be involved in partisan politics with the exception of registering with a party and voting. Staffers should also not make contributions to political candidates or parties.
The Record encourages its employees to be active in community affairs (as long as they don’t join groups they are covering). Such outside interests and avocations help keep the newspaper vital and in touch with the world it covers. Involvement, however, is subject to the following standards:
That community involvement’s do not sway our news judgments.
That staffers not take actions that would bring into question the impartiality of the newspaper.
Staffers are permitted to join non-partisan community organizations, so long as the staffers meet the above standards. Staffers should not assume a leadership role in any organization that generally would be expected to make news.
If a news story develops concerning an organization in which a staffer is a member, he or she should abstain from decisions on that story, and must inform his or her superior of the potential conflict.
Staffers may express their views on matters that affect them as citizens at public meetings and elsewhere, but must not present themselves as representatives of The Record, and must seek not to become part of the news.
Staff members can, in consultation with the editor, speak out on issues of journalistic professional concern such as open meetings and open records.
The Record prohibits its staffers from accepting gifts of any kind from news sources and people it covers or might cover. Similarly, The Record pays the bill of staffers for travel, accommodations, restaurant tabs, and other expenses. The reason is that the newspaper does not want its staffers to be beholden to anyone.
When a reporter has a meal with a news source or person in the news, he or she is expected to either split the tab or pay the entire amount. In the case of a continuing relationship, a reporter could pick up the first tab and then allow the news source to pick up the second, etc. However, the staffer must make certain that he or she does not create a situation in which the staffer would in any way be under obligation to the news source. In general, the best policy is to split the tab.
The ban on gifts includes free tickets to sports and cultural events. Reporters – and reviewers – are exempted only for the specific events they are covering. For example, a theater reviewer could not accept free tickets to a performance that he or she was not assigned to cover. The reviewer, however, is entitled to accept two free tickets to the show he or she is reviewing, as long as they are used for business reasons. Staffers are also prohibited from requesting an opportunity to buy tickets to an event that is normally sold out, such as a playoff game, or for seats that are normally sold out. Staffers are expected to purchase tickets in the same way a member of the public would buy them.
In barring gifts to staffers, The Record recognizes that there are exceptions for trifling matters such as a cup of coffee. Nobody would expect a reporter to refuse a cup of coffee or muffin offered by a candidate holding an early morning press conference, for example. A staffer participating in a panel by a civic association could accept an invitation to stay for lunch or refreshments. Staffers may use unsolicited product samples from their beats. For example, the food editor can and should taste the food. And books sent in for review can be left on a table for takers if the editors decide against reviewing them. Obviously, staffers should not ask publishers for a review copy when they are not going to review the book.
Use of sources
The use of material and quotes attributed to anonymous sources can harm the credibility of the paper.
The Record, therefore, strongly encourages reporters to persuade their sources to speak for attribution. Many sources who initially seek anonymity will agree to be quoted by name when pressed. If we cannot name them, we should tell our readers as much as possible about them their position, political party, town, or age, and why they insist on anonymity.
In some cases, this may be impossible. In other cases, it may even be unwise. For example, in a story on unhealthy family relationships, it would be insensitive on our part to insist on identifying a person who was talking about how he or she had been molested by a family member during childhood.
The decision on whether to use unattributed material and quotes should be made by the reporter’s immediate editor – or the editor acting in that behalf. The reporter should tell this editor who the anonymous source is. These decisions will consider:
The sensitivity of the subject matter at hand;
Whether the source has a valid reason for seeking anonymity;
Whether the source has personal biases which color his or her comments on an issue, and which the reader ought to know.
The number of sources and their background and reliability.
Reporters, of course, should feel free to use anonymous sources in gathering tips to be checked and confirmed later with identified sources.
Editorial press visors issued by The Record are only to be displayed when they are an absolute necessity to do your job. If they are not a necessity for an assignment, don’t display them on your dashboard or in public.
An example of a proper use would be to display the press visor in order to cross police lines to cover a fire.
An example of an improper use would be to display the press visor while parked at a meter, because if the meter expires, there could be the perception that you’re trying to avoid a ticket.
Use them judiciously.